I had just arrived in Beijing and was staying with a friend from school named Max. After I unpacked, we went to Sanlitun to meet one of Max’s childhood friends. We went for coffee at Starbucks, which was definitely not a bar, since I’m only seventeen. Max’s friend went to order drinks and left us alone next to an African guy speaking some foreign language. It took a while, but eventually I realized the African was speaking Japanese. “Dang!” I said, “His Japanese sounds so authentic!”
“He must be pretty smart, with an accent like that,” We continued to compliment him for no good reason until Max’s friend came back…
Before she sat down, she looked over at the African guy and said, “老师好!” I looked on in shock and horror as I thought of what Max and I had overheard. The African got up and said to us, in perfect English, “By the way, Mandarin in China is very common, of course I could understand you! Be more careful next time.”
After he left Max said to me, “What’s wrong with that guy? All we did was compliment him…”
“I think I know why,” I said, “He was on the phone talking dirty to his boyfriend.”